2006-02-11 / News

City Asks Park Commission To Set Lower Speed Limit

By Karen Gould

By Karen Gould

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission, meeting Friday, January 27, in Lansing, told the City of Mackinac Island it has no control over the speed limits in the park, but offered to see if they could be lowered. The city has asked the Commission to lower its 35mile-per-hour speed to 20 miles per hour in the interest of snowmobile safety in the winter.

Mackinac Island city councilman Armand “Smi” Horn, who attended the Lansing meeting, explained that lowering the speed limit on state roads would make it easier for police to control traffic on city streets. Fast snowmobile traffic on the Island’s narrow roads also endangers horse-drawn vehicles. The city enforces a 20-mile-per-hour speed limit on all city streets.

Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter said the State Park Commission has never set speed limits for the Island park roads and that Michigan law sets the maximum speed at 35 miles per hour on state park roads.

“There is a lot of merit to the request,” noted Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne, although he held out little hope that the speed limit could be changed this winter.

Setting a speed limit on a state park road is a lengthy procedure, he said. The Commission has to work through the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act to institute a rule, especially if there is the potential for a fine to be issued to those breaking the posted speed. The process also requires input from the office of the attorney general and review and approval by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. A public hearing would be advisable and possibly required, noted Mr. Cawthorne.

Commissioners said they would discuss the matter in March.

Frank Pompa, who owns property at Point Aux Pins, questioned the practicality of an island-wide 20-mile-perhour speed limit, especially on the north end of the Island, which is remote from city streets. He also pointed out that snowmobiles need to go faster just to clean the plugs of excess carbon that results from slower speeds.

Mr. Cawthorne said that M185, the state highway that encircles the Island, may be subject to Michigan Department of Transportation regulations and, therefore, not subject to any commission-imposed speed limit. Their jurisdiction could even extend to Main Street, which is part of the highway, it was suggested.

Mr. Cawthorne also noted that the original resolution allowing the operation of snowmobiles is for the health and safety for Mackinac Island residents and was not intended to allow people to ride over the ice bridge from the mainland. It is these visitors who often travel at excessive speeds on the Island, the city has noted.

In another matter, commissioners breathed a sigh of relief when they learned during their meeting that all indications are the park budget will remain intact for the current fiscal year, though budget cuts can be expected for state agencies in the next fiscal year, which begins October 1.

“At this point, no major budget cuts are anticipated for the current year, thanks in part to a state general fund surplus from the prior fiscal year,” said Mr. Porter.

He said the forecast for Fiscal Year 2007 is for a general fund shortfall of $350 million. Governor Jennifer Granholm’s budget recommendations were expected to be announced Thursday, February 9.

“We’re anticipating the governor’s budget will recommend cuts across the board,” said Mr. Porter. “We’re not expecting anything like last year’s total elimination of the budget.”

Last year, the governor suggested the state’s $1.5 million appropriation for Mackinac State Historic Parks be eliminated and that the Commission should make up the difference by charging heftier or new user fees. Its annual total budget is $5.7 million, and most of its revenue is generated through admissions and other museum fees.

Commissioners approved a new 20-year lease for Island House, Inc. With seven years remaining on the current lease, Island House, Inc. asked for the new, long-term lease to help it secure financing for a planned major improvement to the building.

In 1941, the State of Michigan received the hotel as tax-reverted property and deeded it to Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 1946. The park began leasing the hotel in the early 1970s to the Ryba and Callewaert families.

Mr. Porter reported that the Historic Mill Creek and the Voyageur Cafe at Colonial Michilimackinac will offer vending machine services this summer. Last September, the Commission had sent requests for proposals to 17 food service providers for park food concessions and received no responses.

“This is an indication of the economic situation in northern Michigan, with business owners being very cautious,” said Mr. Porter.

Food service at these sites is important, Mr. Porter said, and park staff will continue to seek food concessions, although vending machines appear to be the only option this year.

At Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, the concessionaire has been Grand Hotel, which provides lunch and, in 2005, dinner at the Fort Tea Room. Mr. Porter said Grand Hotel will not provide the evening food service this summer. The Tea Room served dinner to 3,200 in 2005, he said, and the staff will revisit the dinner issue following the 2006 season.

In another Grand Hotel matter, a two-year use permit for the hotel was approved at a cost of $100 for land claimed by both the park and the hotel along Cadotte Avenue. The hotel bases its ownership claim on a 1934 survey. The commission believes that survey is flawed and refers to an earlier survey. If the park is correct, Grand Hotel encroaches with flower beds and a small section of the hotel, but the use permit allows both parties to postpone a possible lengthy and expensive permanent resolution.

“This 1934 survey has caused more grief,” said Mr. Cawthorne, referring to a list of disputes arising from it.

Commissioners tabled a request for rate increases from Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, Inc., stating they need more information justifying a rate hike and that they hope more commissioners will be present at the March meeting to review the matter.

Attending the January meeting in addition to Chairman Cawthorne were commissioners Karen Karam, Joan Porteous, and Laurie Stupak. Commissioners Audrey Jaggi, Frank Kelley, and Richard Manoogian were absent from the meeting.

Under a licensing agreement with the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, carriage rates cannot be raised without commission approval.

Commissioner Porteous said she worried about the effect increasing rates would have on visitors.

Carriage Tours is proposing a 25¢ increase to taxi fares, increases in livery fees, and proposes to increase adult sightseeing tickets from $18 to $19.

Mr. Horn, an employee of Carriage Tours, said the price reflects increased costs of transporting the horses to the Island, horse care, and employee payroll.

Commissioners approved use of park land for a water line extension from Stonecliffe Road to Tamarack Cottage, owned by Kay and Larry Berke. The 90foot line will be installed by the Department of Public Works from a fire hydrant on Stonecliffe Road to the east driveway of the Manoogian Trust property. The line will provide seasonal water service to the cottage, which has been on a line that ran from the Annex through the Cohen property.

Mr. Porter announced that a crew from WGBH Boston, a national PBS station, will meet with staff members at Fort Mackinac, Thursday, February 9, through Sunday, February 12, to tape an episode of the children’s show, “Postcards from Buster.” The show films stories about children who live in unique areas. The visit, however, was subsequently canceled by station administrators.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City has a $189,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Land Trust Fund for site improvements, including new parking lots, sidewalks, signage, and an informational kiosk. Another $120,000 from the Department of Natural Resources Recreation Trails Fund will pay for reconstruction of the historic sidewalks, an access ramp, and installation of exterior light fixtures.

When finished in May 2007, all exterior work at the lighthouse exhibit will be complete.

To supplement its revenue, Mackinac State Historic Parks has offered to rent the gazebo used in the film, “Somewhere in Time,” for $500 and has, so far, booked one wedding for this summer, Mr. Porter reported.

Commissioners are also considering renting the Geary House on Market Street and the east half of the Visitors Center dock, and selling the sloop Welcome to the Maritime Heritage Alliance in Traverse City. The organization has been leasing and repairing the vessel. The schooner was used to move Fort Michilimackinac to Mackinac Island during the American Revolution and a replica was built by the park in the 1970s.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission next meets in Lansing, Wednesday, March 22.

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